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China's Myanmar link (The Hindu, 29

Subject: China's Myanmar link (The Hindu, 29/11/96.)

China's Myanmar link
The Hindu, 29/11/96.
ONE AREA OF critical interest to India on which New Delhi 
can usefully probe the mind of the visiting Chinese President, 
Mr. Jiang Zemin, is Myanmar, or Burma, which shares a 
common border with both countries and had in the past proved 
a haven for tribal insurgents from the North-East. It has been 
one long period of darkness for that country, suffering in the 
decade soon after independence under the disastrous policies of 
a paranoid dictator who chose to seal the country off and now 
under the boot of a junta that refuses to heed the call of the 
international community. The State Law and Order Restoration 
Council knows that its days are numbered but, like the 
proverbial drowning man, clings to the fond hope that its few 
benefactors can still save it. One country providing a protective 
shield is China. Beijing has, no doubt, been religiously denying 
any such strategic connections but it is unthinkable that it 
expects nothing at all in return for its heavy economic and 
diplomatic investment in the SLORC regime. Such altruism is 
alien to present day international politics.
China has given considerable economic and financial assistance 
to successive regimes in Myanmar since the middle of the 
Eighties. It has built a strategic roadway which has seen a 
steady flow of military hardware to help prop up the lately-
beleaguered regime in Yangon. In return -- or for whatever 
undramatic consideration -- China has been allowed to have 
listening posts on the Great Coco island off the Andamans for 
surveillance of the sea route. It is also said to be developing 
harbours that can, if the need arises, serve military purposes. 
Weaning Myanmar from the Chinese was in fact one of the 
basic postulates of the Association of South East Asian Nations' 
policy of constructive engagement of the military regime. A 
majority of the members of the Asean now acknowledge that 
the policy has been a failure. It has only served to increase the 
clout of the junta, the military cornering all the benefits of the 
investment flow emanating from the Asian grouping and japan. 
The China card still seems to have currency.
The military regime displays few signs that the mild pressure 
that the United States has been applying is impacting at all. The 
U.S. President, Mr. Bill Clinton's advice to the regime to 
resume its suspended dialogue with the democracy leader, Ms. 
Aung San Suu Kyi, is therefore needed and timely. It contained 
no explicit warning but, with Washington coming under 
increasing pressure from domestic public opinion to act to end 
the repression and human rights violations in Myanmar, 
sanctions are the next step. After the regime's shameful display 
of intolerance earlier this month when it did everything in its 
vast power to neutralise Ms. Suu Kyi. the international 
community is left with no option. The European Union, which 
from the beginning was opposed to the policy of constructive 
engagement, may soon impose sanctions to block exports to the 
E.U from Myanmar. By themselves sanctions may not help 
restore democracy and end the repression but they can be an 
effective tool to twist the junta's arm and hit where it hurts 
most, the purse. The military regime, for all its longevity, is 
basically unstable and sustains itself through artificial props, 
indigenous and imported. India, with its historic connections to 
the people of Myanmar and its vital -interest - in peace in the 
region close to the North-East, has in the past year been moving 
to resume trade and commercial contacts across the border. It 
must persuade China to help effect a peaceful change in 
Myanmar. Democracy-led political stability in that country will 
have a beneficial fallout in the whole region.